As the Nebraska football team moves closer towards the start of summer conditioning, Huskeronline.com will begin our day-by-day look at each one of the Huskers opponents coming out of their respective spring practices.
Today we continue our breakdowns with Louisiana-Lafayette, which despite finishing last season with at 6-6 came just one game shy of winning the Sun Belt Conference championship with a 5-2 league record.
This season, the Ragin' Cajuns must find a way to replace quarterback Michael Desormeaux, receiver Jason Chery and four-time 1,000-yard tailback Tyrell Fenroy, as the trio combined for 44 touchdowns last year.
Huskeronline.com caught up with ULL beat writer Joshua Parrott of the Lafayette (La.) Daily Advisor to get his thoughts and perspectives on the Ragin' Cajuns heading out of spring practice.
ULL has some pretty big shoes to fill after losing quarterback Michael Desormeaux and four-time 1,000-yard tailback Tyrell Fenroy. How did the search go to find their replacements this spring?
"I guess I'll start at running back, because that's a little simpler than the quarterback situation. Undrea Sails has essentially at this point been named the starter. He's got experience. He's the best pass blocker of any of the running backs they have, and really his running ability is right on par with everyone else they have coming back. He's really solidified himself with his ability to pass block. Now there's a chance that they could go with kind of a multiple type look next year where they're giving two or three guys a chance. Sails is the frontrunner and has been named the starter going into the summer, but I wouldn't be surprised if they went with a couple different guys next year.
"The funny thing about the quarterback situation is that (head coach) Rickey Bustle had given a slight edge to Brad McGuire over Chris Masson coming into the spring, but then after the spring said they were tied for the job. It's kind of one of those deals where they're tied for the job, but I think what he's saying is that if he were forced to make a decision, he would go with McGuire. But he's saying that going into the summer, anything can change. My gut feeling is that it would take something awfully big for Brad not to be the starter going into the year."
Then there's the issue of replacing big play receiver Jason Chery. How are things looking at wide out?
"Chery really blossomed last year and they were able to find a way to get him the ball. With him being gone now, and they also lost Derrick Smith who actually led the team in receptions last year as a senior, they basically lost their top two receivers. As far as guys stepping into the role that Chery had last year, the name that I'm hearing is a guy named Rico Joseph. He's a juco transfer who was on campus for the spring. A guy named Marlin Miller could also fill in. They both kind of fit that same mold as Chery. Probably not quite as fast, but Chery's a guy who claims to run a 4.22 (40-yard dash). So who knows?"
The defense really had some issues last season, as it ranked 105th nationally in total defense. Did the unit look any better this spring?
"They dealt with so many injuries last year. I want to say they lost six or seven different linebackers to injury. But as far as all those rankings and everything, they weren't very pretty at all. The one thing that's going for them is that nine of their 11 starters from last year are back. They're going to have a lot of depth at linebacker. I think they have their best depth on the defensive line. I guess the biggest difference all the way around is that they made some changes to their supplement program, and these guys have put on a lot of weight over the past year. I think they had really gotten worn down the previous couple of years. Now, these guys are 15-20 pounds heavier, and I think that will help them kind if fight against other teams up front and get through the tough part of the season."
So considering all of the losses on offense and the defense basically starting over from the ground up, can this team still contend for a Sun Belt title this year?
"It's funny, I've been asked that question by a couple different people now, and I really think there is a chance that this team can enjoy some of the same success they did last year. It won't be near as flashy. I don't think you'll see near the numbers put up. I think it'll be more of a game management type deal, with the quarterback trying to keep them from making mistakes and manage the clock. Last year they were such a quick hit offense I think a lot of times it was a detriment to the defense. They didn't get a lot of opportunity to rest. This year, I think you're going to see the defense play a lot better. Well, on defense there's really nowhere to go but up. On offense, it won't be as flashy, but if they can find a way to manage the game I don't see why they couldn't see the same success in conference play again this year. Some people might think that's a reach, but I think it can go either way."
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